Grace and Works


I am familiar that the Catholic stance is that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, which is perfected by works, through love and charity (or something similar to this).

Due to my mother I came face to face with a protestant minister. I said something similar to this that we are saved by grace, through faith and works (since faith without works is dead). However, the protestant minister said if we need works, then it’s not grace anymore.

I understand that works on their own merit nothing (from Trent I believe), and that it must be works that comes about from the cooperation with God’s grace.

How would I answer this question? He says that if works are necessary, then the initial grace is no longer grace, regardless of whether it’s from works of our own (meriting nothing) or works from cooperating with God. He says any form of a work regardless of the source means the initial grace is no longer grace…

How do I refute this? (He’s a general protestant minister but working at a UMC)


I like this article by Dr. Marshner:

Justification By Faith
By Dr. William Marshner

What Catholics call “sanctifying grace” or “habitual grace” turns out to be a deeply mysterious entity: a quality of man which is a property of God. In order to cope with such an entity, one needs a sophisticated metaphysics of participation. The Church Fathers and their successors, the Scholastic Doctors, took the trouble to work out such a metaphysics because the existence of grace as a real entity in man—ontic grace—was and is the foundation, without which the whole Catholic understanding of justification makes no sense. The Protestant Reformers, however, impatient with metaphysics, preferred not to cope with such an entity and denied its existence.4 To them it seemed simpler to say that grace is something wholly in God, namely, His favor towards us. But then, if grace is not something real in man, our “justification” can no longer be conceived as a real change in us; it will have to become a sheer declaration on God’s part, e.g. a declaration that, thanks to the work of Christ, He will henceforth consider us as just, even though we remain inwardly the sinners we always were. Hence, the Protestant doctrine of “forensic” or “extrinsic” justification. Now watch what happens to our own act of faith: it ceases to be the foundational act of an interior renewal and becomes a mere requirement, devoid of any salvific power in its own right, which God arbitrarily sets as the condition on which He will He will declare us just. Whereupon, watch what happens to our good works: they cease to be the vital acts wherein an ontologically real “new life” consists and manifests itself; they become mere human responses to divine mercy—nice, but totally irrelevant to our justification—or else they become zombie-like motions produced in us by irresistible divine impulses, whereby God exhibits His glory in His elect.


God is the great “I Am”. You can’t reduce God to an instance in time–you can’t reduce God to a snapshot.

Grace like God–FLOWS.

It has a starting point–conversion but it flows on from there.

It doesn’t always necessarily keep flowing.

It ends for any of us if we mortally sin. If we don’t mortally sin it keeps flowing through “God willed works” until we die. That is salvation and we wind up in Heaven.

When grace is interrupted and stops flowing because of mortal sin–if the flow isn’t restarted then at death we go to Hell.

“God willed works” ARE a part of God’s flowing grace.

Man willed works apart from God’s will happen when the flow of God’s will is stopped during mortal sin. They do not save because they are not part of the flow of actual grace.

Doing or not doing any kind of work saves us when we are in the flow of God’s grace and do His willed works. Doing a work does not save us if we are outside of the flow of God’s grace and are doing something that we will–no matter how noble that work might be it doesn’t save–NOT because of the value of the work–but because it is outside of the flow of God’s grace–it is not something that He wills.

When we know to do something and do it–it is not our doing the work that saves us–it is NOT resisting what God wants done–in other words by doing a work that He wants we do not interrupt the flow.

In a case like that the fact that we do what God wills is because of His grace–not our effort.

So God does ALL of the saving–but God gives us free will and lets us CO–OPERATE in His saving of us. It is a divine mystery but it is true.

It is not though true that God’s grace always necessarily continues after it first starts in us–at any time we can interrupt that grace through mortal sin. If the flow is stopped at our death then we go to Hell!

The easy truth that Protestants try to push is that God’s saving flow never stops once started and always necessarily results in salvation… that is false.

And mortal sin is a fact–God does not keep living in the sinful heart of man once one mortally sins.

Staying in a state of grace leads to heaven and only happens when we don’t stop God’s saving grace in us which during our lives does continue time to time through works that HE WILLS!

The reason we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” as St. Paul tells us to do is that all of us should fear Hell and fear that we might not be in a state of grace when we die and wind up going there–none of us wants that–but God gives us grace through the sacraments for that not to happen.

Not being afraid of being in a state of mortal sin as the Protestants teach and not believing that mortal sin does in fact separate us from God WILL result in Hell if we die in that state.

So see it is not anything that we do that earns us heaven–it is us not stopping His grace in us–which sometimes involves doing what He wills and staying in that state which saves us–He does ALL the saving–we cooperate by not getting in God’s way!

That cooperation happens because of God’s grace AND the operation of our free will.

How can it be both? That is a mystery but it is the truth!


Both works and faith are a response to God’s grace. Faith does not save, nor do works save–God’s grace merited through Christ Jesus and given by the Holy Spirit SAVES. However, as the previous poster stated, God’s grace flows through us. We must cooperate with grace. Our first cooperation comes in faith but to animate that faith with life we begin to do good works. (cf Jas 2:14-17)

We see in Isaiah 64:6 “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” But then we see that we will be judged by our good works in Romans 2:6 (and other passages) "He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. " Wait a minute… if works are “like filthy garments” why on earth is God going to render to each of us according to our works? The answer is that GOOD works are a response to God’s grace. Works are what make faith alive. Without works belief in Jesus Christ is mere intellectual assent and even the demons have that. Works that are “filthy garments” are works we do based on our own will and desire. It could even be a work that seems good in the world-- like say donating a million dollars to a home for orphans. But if it is done with the notion of pride (doing the work so people will think your great) then it becomes tainted. Lastly, it seems that the pastor has forgotten that we are created in Christ Jesus** for good works**. Eph 2:10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. God wants us doing good works, He even prepared them ahead of time and He gives us the grace that we may walk in them. It all starts with grace.

The pastor will probably soon be able to tell that the statements you share from this thread radically oppose what he thinks he knows about Catholic teaching, especially the false notion of “works based” salvation. That is why it always good to start off like posters here did-- we believe that it is grace that saves through (living) faith and then move into a discussion about our response to grace and the movement of grace flowing through us.


I would ask him why works can’t be backed by grace but faith can. Where is he getting that rule?


Thanks, great answer :thumbsup:


The problem is that the Protestant minister apparently confuses being made right with God (justification) with gaining eternal salvation. The two are connected but not the same. He also seems to be of the Protestant school of thought that confuses the use of the term “works,” as I will demonstrate at the end.

First of all, some Protestants (and Catholics too) never bother to learn that there is a difference between being justified or declared righteous by God and being saved. One comes before the other. You don’t die and go straight to heaven upon being justified through God’s saving grace. That’s just the beginning.

Catholics believe that we are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. Our resulting salvation will occur only if we “work” in cooperation with the saving grace of God. By doing so our works have merit, but only because the strength to accomplish these and the resulting grace from them originate with Christ. Only by means of Christ working in us can we follow the inspired instruction: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”–Philippians 2:12.

The second part has to do with the confusion over the use of the word “works.” In English Bibles we are limited to a single word to describe two different concepts. We use the expression “works” to describe the actions we take as Christians in cooperating with Christ’s grace. But in some of the epistles, especially Romans, the English word “works” means “mitzvah,” and refers to obedient actions of Jews in compliance with the Mosaic Law.

St. Paul was trying to warn Gentile Christians that their attempt to live according to Mosaic Law to be like Jews was actually breaking the Mosaic Law. To this day Jews do not believe that they are “saved” by performing acts of obedience or “mitzvah” or “works” in accordance with the Law. Any Torah-observant Jew will tell you that they perform “mitzvah” as a sign of their faith in God and his Law. They are not saved by the “work” or “mitzvah” anymore than a Gentile who does the same action is saved by it apart from the Law.

But this message got lost in the minds of some Gentile Christians. They believed performing “mitzvah” was a requisite to salvation for them and they tried to preach a gospel that claimed that such “works” were necessary for salvation. If you note Paul’s epistles, the apostle to the Gentile often quotes from the Mosaic Law itself to show that such reasoning is wrong. Salvation isn’t dependent on performing “mitzvah” or “works” of the Law because the Law doesn’t promise salvation by their performance. By trying to obey the Law and forcing it upon other non-Jews, these Gentiles were actually breaking it.

The confusion is here. Most people aren’t keenly aware of when Paul means “mitzvah” or just the performance of obedient actions when he uses the term “works.” Basically speaking if you read in Scripture that we “are not saved by works” then you can bet that the word “works” in this context means “mitzvah.”

Anti-Semitism mixed with hatred for the Catholic Church has made some Protestants hesitant about reading Scripture in its proper Semitic or Hebrew context. They thus read every use of the word “works” to mean the performance of actions which cannot save and often link them to Catholic actions like praying the Rosary and even reception of the Sacraments. This school of thought is very dangerous as it leads to a misunderstanding not only about Catholicism, grace and works, but also the Jews and the people from which our Lord sprang and to which Paul belonged.

So “works” or “mitzvah” are not requisites to salvation–those kind of works are limited to obedience to the Mosaic Law. But actions of cooperation with God’s grace, these types of “works” are.

Again Scripture says: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) If you don’t cooperate with grace and “work” with the direction by the Spirit, you cannot expect to be saved.


Here’s an analogy. Grace is a free gift, right? Imagine a girl gets a car for her sixteenth birthday. Free gift, right? But it doesn’t do her any good unless she uses it. And it won’t keep working if she doesn’t take care of it or if she swerves off the road and totals it.


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